One quiet afternoon in Vienna, with Katharina Unger

Illustration—Florence Rivest

Katharina Unger is an entrepreneur and industrial designer working in sustainability. Growing up on an organic farm in the Austrian countryside, she developed a lifelong interest in the relationship between people and their food.

Today, Unger divides her time between Vienna and Hong Kong, where she advocates for a more sustainable, food-conscious future. She is the CEO of Livin Farms, a company focused on the production of edible insects.

One quiet afternoon in Vienna last winter, Katharina responded to our Questionnaire.


Your most cherished childhood memory of being in nature.
Horseback riding through the forests and landscapes of rural Austria.

An issue you are concerned about in your neighbourhood, your city, or your country.
The unsustainability of our current food supply chain and the food system.

Your “Green Gap.”
I lead a business built on the pillars of sustainability and food system resilience, with offices in Hong Kong and Vienna. But until the COVID Crisis, I took a lot of plane trips back and forth between continents. This has stopped for now, but in the future, the company will work to offset our carbon footprint.

Your best story about the woods, or your most uncomfortable outdoor experience.
Sleeping in a tent next to a waterfall — the sound was so overpowering that I had nightmares of getting flushed away.

The place where you are happiest.
On and in the ocean!

An architectural project that inspires you.
Rem Koolhaas’ AMO research project about the future of the countryside!

Something you think should disappear from the planet.

A photographer or a visual artist who inspires you.
Ronan Bouroullec.

A key ingredient for building a sustainable future.
Becoming aware of the resources around you and just how precious they are.

One of your favourite places.
The dry seafood market on Wing Lok Street in Hong Kong. It’s a huge street packed with shops selling all types of weird food: sea cucumbers, shark fins, fish bladders. Everything smells of dried fish, is spicy and humid, and the street is filled with the sounds of chopping, packaging, and loud negotiating. When I first lived in Hong Kong, I would go there every morning and evening and wonder, where does all of this food come from? I felt like so many people come here every day, but few people understand what they’re looking at or eating.

The first time you ate an insect for research.
It was in 2013, in Austria, when I was around 22 years old. I had ordered black soldier fly larvae in the mail as part of my research project on insect farming. I opened the bag and my hands were shaking. It was a big hurdle to overcome — not love at first sight between me and the bugs. It tasted like mushrooms, or something earthy, like a potato. Now, my regular diet includes ground mealworms in burger patties, or in tomato sauce with pasta.

What non-digital activity can you happily do all day and never get bored?
Foraging and diving for scallops and sea snails in the oceans surrounding Hong Kong.

What experience in nature reminded you of your mortality?
Kayaking around Lanikai Beach in Hawaii. The sea was rough, and yet my friend and I took turns watching the kayak while the other went snorkelling. We saw turtles, fish, and corals. Weeks later, a shark attack was reported at that very spot. I never again felt so deeply connected to nature and so tiny in this overwhelming ecosystem.

Share if you liked this story